Okay, now that we’ve been sufficiently impressed with one sequel to a really popular book, time for a disappointment. I am of course speaking of A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab, which happened to combine three major things that I hate. And unfortunately, the writing and characters weren’t enough to save it.
- Two mutually longing people being separated and just missing each other by a hair. He shows up there, she shows up an hour after he’s gone. Neither knows the other is so close. In fact, they repeatedly convince themselves that the other person wouldn’t have come back or been looking for them or whatever. Please stop.
- A new possible love interest who is so obviously “the sexy bad boy” but has no other good character traits. In fact, every new thing we learn about this guy, instead of making his irritating personality understandable or more appealing, just confirms that he’s worse than you first thought. Not only that, but he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong and continues to play the victim. Drown him.
- A villain lurks in the background for whole scenes and does literally nothing to affect the plot until the last bit, and even then, it’s by proxy. It was pretty obvious that Holland would be back from Black London, because the author chose not to let us stew in suspense at all and instead confirm his survival within the first few chapters. Okay, wouldn’t have been my choice, but I guess that’s better than pretending your readers are dumb and would have been surprised when he did show up. But I was hoping that he would actually “show up” in more significant ways than just being confirmed alive and in White London. He literally does nothing to advance the plot, until the last quarter of the book when he actually takes direct action that affects Kell in Red London. And we get the perspective of this new character we don’t care about because she has no personality besides “powerful in magic, henchman of Holland”. (Again with the useless, lead-nowhere perspectives, which was a complaint I had about the first book.) At least give us some backstory for this girl, something relatable. White London is a horrorscape and this is where she has lived, through the bloody reign of Athos and Astrid. Tell us how she found Holland or he found her or something. Give this woman a personality, please! Holland had more personality in the first book, and he was a mind-controlled robot the whole time.
Okay, I think I’m done ranting. There were some things I liked about this: a few minor developments that helped keep me engaged enough to finish it. Kell’s position having changed drastically after the events of A Darker Shade of Magic being one—the family dynamic is one that fascinated me about the first book, and I wanted more of it. Rhy developing as a leader and displaying his vision for the future of his country is something that this book does pretty well. Although, the physical sensation connection between brothers Kell and Rhy is a bit of a weird beast. I like it in some ways, but in other ways I’m like, “how, though?” There are some completely unaddressed issues that would arise with that… for instance, if they feel each other’s physical sensations, like pain, why don’t they also feel other, uh, more pleasant ones? No explanation is given, and their connection is a big enough part of some events of the story that I feel like there should have been a more thorough exploration of what exactly the bounds of the connection are and why.
Another thing I liked is the development on Lila’s magic, and how the signs appear more and more that she might be Antari. And that’s about all I liked about Lila’s storyline. Her entrance into the competition, and how she rapidly climbed the ranks was just a bit—I don’t know. It felt small. There’s all this build-up to this difficult and dangerous competition, and then the thing itself takes hardly any time and suddenly she’s facing off against Kell and he has to throw the match because he can’t win for fear of being unmasked, because he is competing fraudulently. But Lila also doesn’t want to be unmasked, as she too is competing fraudulently, so there’s a big conflict there and it gets too speedily resolved to actually hold any weight. Because after all this hand-wringing about the disasters that will ensue should either of them be unmasked, neither of them actually are.
I thought it would be particularly hairy and intensify the story if it was Kell who ended up getting discovered, but either would have done. Or why not both? But no, that plot thread is dropped in favour of having what’s-her-name Holland’s henchman show up. Which is fine, I guess, but not that compelling, given her lack of a character. I wanted more mayhem and disaster and what-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong instead of all this whinging and moaning for two-thirds of the book as the (unacknowledged) lovers pine for one another and do nothing particularly interesting.
I was just tired by the end of it. I was bored by the competition, which the whole rest of the book led up to, and I realised that I just didn’t care about the characters enough anymore. Which was an incredibly sad realisation because I like Kell and his world and want to read more about them, but just not enough to get through another one like this. There was so much good setup in the first book that I just didn’t feel was developed strongly enough in the second, and I didn’t care enough about the contrived eleventh hour conflict to make me want to read the third. So, I will be ending the saga here.